Now that felt like a USA men’s basketball game.
After collapsing in the final four minutes of their Olympic opener against France, Team USA bounced back with a 120-66 thumping of Iran in each team’s second game of pool play.
Yes, it’s Iran. But the result was a much-needed one for the Americans. Here are four observations from the laugher:
Gregg Popovich tweaked the starting lineup for USA’s second group phase game, inserting Devin Booker and Jrue Holiday in place of Zach LaVine and Draymond Green.
Booker made his presence felt early by canning two mid-range jumpers during USA’s first-quarter flurry, and finished with 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 19 minutes. Holiday posted 8 points, 3 assists, 2 blocks and a steal in 23 minutes after looking like USA’s best player against France fresh off the plane from the NBA Finals.
In the eventual blowout, Khris Middleton, JaVale McGee, Jerami Grant and Keldon Johnson all saw increased run as well.
Ill-timed stretches of offensive stagnancy defined USA’s opening loss to France, so a hot-shooting performance was just what the doctor ordered.
The Americans began the contest by connecting on five of their first eight 3-point attempts, finishing the first quarter 6-for-12 from distance in building a 28-12 lead. By the half, that advantage had swelled to 30 points, and, shooting 13-for-21 from deep, USA out-scored Iran’s point total (30) on 3s alone.
Beyond the long-range barrage, USA’s offense was simply more crisp, albeit against inferior competition than they’ve seen dating back to the exhibitions. Their first turnover in the contest came on a moving screen by Draymond Green 77 seconds into the second quarter, by which time Iran already had seven.
By night’s end, USA established a number of healthy offensive indicators:
- They dished 34 assists and shot 55 percent from the field
- Out-scored Iran by a whopping 38-5 margin on the fast break
- Committed only six turnovers, while turning 23 Iran turnovers into 37 points on the other end
Pushing pace, sharp ball movement, scalding shooting and using swarming defense to leverage all of the above was the recipe for success.
Leading the charge offensively was Damian Lillard. There were stretches of the first half that felt like shooting practice for the Trail Blazers guard, who posted 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting from 3-point range in the game’s first 20 minutes. He finished the game with 21 points, 5 dimes and a 7-for-13 mark from deep.
Caveats related to competition level aside, this was a pleasant development for the Americans. Lillard (3-for-10) and Kevin Durant (4-for-12) combined to shoot just 7-for-22 against France, and both, along with others, had their share of struggles during exhibition play. As USA’s two best offensive players, they’ll be relied upon to produce at a high level moving forward.
LaVine continues solid play
LaVine continued to make a positive impact after his move from the starting lineup to the bench. In nine first-half minutes, his eight points trailed only Lillard on the USA roster. Those points came from two free-throws and back-to-back step-back 3s that helped the Americans establish their first 30-point lead of the night.
Though he followed that with just five second half points (with three coming via free throw), the Bulls guard did rack up eight assists to lead the team. Hitting ahead in transition and picking out shooters and rollers in the half court, he embraced a table-setting role as the game got out of hand.
Meanwhile, LaVine also continued to provide full-court ball pressure on the defensive end, which has clearly been a point of emphasis. His highlight of the night on that end came midway through the third quarter, when he tipped and stole an Iranian pass while guarding a screen-and-roll, then hit ahead to Durant for a fast break dunk.
LaVine’s game ended with 13 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds and that steal, with a 3-for-5 shooting line from the field, 2-for-4 from 3.
Standings update: The win moves USA to 1-1 in pool play and with a formidable plus-47 point differential because of the lopsided nature of this result. A win against the Czech Republic on Saturday would guarantee them a spot in the quarterfinals (barring the Czechs colossally trouncing France).
Next up: A date with Bulls guard Tomáš Satoranský and the Czech Republic, which will air Saturday morning at 7 a.m. CT.